iPhones for MPs: unseemly gesture

iPhones for MPs: unseemly gesture

Minister for power department D K Shivakumar. (DH PHOTO / IRSHAD MAHAMMAD)

The move to splurge on expensive iPhones for MPs from Karnataka at a time when Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy is virtually scraping the bottom of the pot for every available penny to fund his ambitious farm-loan waiver programme is despicable as much as it is insensitive. With public condemnation over this largesse growing, Major Irrigation Minister DK Shivakumar, whose department had distributed the phones, was forced to assert that they were procured from his personal funds, not taxpayers’ money. While this comes as a consolation, the prudence of indulging in such extravagance when the state is in austerity mode, is still questionable. The timing of this expensive gift is also suspect as it came on the eve of a meeting called by Kumaraswamy in New Delhi to discuss issues related to the Cauvery Water Monitoring Board. Being one of the richest legislators in the state, with declared assets of nearly Rs 850 crore, Shivakumar’s capacity to pay was never in doubt, but while gifting iPhones to 37 Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha members, including those from the Opposition, at a cost of about Rs 36 lakh, may speak of his large-heartedness, it could have been used for a worthier cause.

The state is staring at tough times, with the government struggling to make both ends meet to fund the loan waiver. The increase in fuel prices to partly finance the scheme threatens to stimulate inflationary trends leading to a possible rise in prices, further burdening the common man. Though bountiful rains have brought cheer, the damage to life and property due to floods have caused untold hardship to the people in catchment areas. Sops like free bus passes for students have been put on hold for lack of funds while the future of other welfare schemes benefiting the lower strata of society is uncertain. At times like these, when the man on the street is being forced to tighten the belt, ostentatious display of wealth by lawmakers is bound to be frowned upon.

The motive behind Shivakumar’s generosity itself is questionable and his defence that the phones were gifted as a gesture of goodwill to MPs who were fighting Karnataka’s cause does not cut ice. The issue has exposed the government, which is already grappling under the pressure of coalition politics, to needless embarrassment. Such moves, even if well-intentioned, are best avoided as they unnecessarily drain the energies of the government in defending them while deflecting public attention from more important matters. As it is, politicians and elected representatives suffer from an acute credibility crisis. Any indiscretion on their part will further dent their image in the public eye.

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